These days, more and more Canadians are cutting down on alcohol—and for many good reasons! 

For one thing, alcohol causes hangovers, which are obviously best avoided. As many novelty T-shirts point out: “A hangover is just your body reminding you that you’re an idiot.”

For another, alcohol makes you pee more than usual, which causes your body to lose the water it needs to stay healthy .

Then there’s the fact that sugary and high-calorie drinks, like cocktails made with pop, juice or cream, can make you pack on the pounds. Beer is also heavy on calories, with a regular can having about the same amount as a can of pop. It’s called a beer gut for a reason!

Booze also impairs attention, concentration, and judgement, can contribute to memory loss and has been shown to disrupt both the quality and quantity of sleep. Over the long term, unhealthy alcohol use can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Last but not least, a recent study reports that knocking back more than 6 drinks per week puts you at an increasingly high risk of negative health consequences such as 7 types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, and liver disease. Likewise, drinking too much has also been linked to erectile dysfunction and low testosterone.

Starting your journey as a sober socialite

Group socializing while drinking water

For many, cutting back on alcohol is easier said than done. Drinking is a big part of many Canadians’ social lives, especially during holidays and other special events. The good news: plenty of hacks can help you cut back or quit drinking.

Communicate your intentions: Consider starting by letting your close friends and family know about your plans. Gradually update your friends 1 at a time. Keep it casual while being clear that you are committed to this change. You don’t have to justify your reasons if you don’t want to.

Set boundaries: If you are only cutting back (and not quitting), be clear about how frequently you plan to drink and how many drinks you are okay with. Because who knows? You could inspire friends and family members to do the same!

Choose different settings to hang out: Let your friends know if you need to hang out in different settings, like getting outside or going to a movie instead of a bar.
Stay the course: Know that you could receive some push-back—studies show 35% of adults experience peer pressure to drink—so stay focused on what motivated you to make this change in the first place. And don’t be afraid to leave the situation if the pressure persists.

Tips for enjoying social events without alcohol

Dinner party without alcohol

There is no need to skip social events just because people are drinking and you’re not. When you do find yourself in a social setting where alcohol is present, here are some easy ways to socialize without alcohol while still enjoying a healthy social life:

Set a time limit

If a situation or event is too boozy for your liking, give yourself an hour to see how it unfolds. Once the hour’s up if you’re not enjoying yourself or feeling uneasy, then…

Feel free to leave

Remember that time your buddy left a party before you did? Didn’t think so! There’s no need to feel bad about making an early exit. On that note…

Have an exit strategy

Planning your route home ahead of time means you don’t have to rely on anyone else or wait for the late-night drinkers to stumble out the door.

Incognito cocktails 

Many popular cocktails can be just as tasty without alcohol. Pack a glass with ice cubes, pour over tonic water, diet cola or Clamato, and squeeze in some fresh lime or lemon. The result is as refreshing and tasty as a regular gin and tonic, vodka and cola, or bloody Caesar. To take your mocktail game to the next level, check out these tasty alcohol-free options.

Three cheers for near beer!

No- and low-alcohol brews have come a long way over the past few years, with well-known brands upping their games and Canadian craft breweries jumping into the action. There are plenty of satisfying alcohol-free beer options available across the country.

Make plans to do something early the next morning

Make plans to do something early in the morning the day after your social event. Go for a hike or plan for a full day of skiing or snowboarding. You’ll be less tempted to give in to social pressure and wake up and revel in the smug satisfaction of knowing how being good to your body feels great. Plus, positive reinforcement works wonders for changing old habits.

Bring a sober friend

Like the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Similar to building a new gym routine, an accountability or support buddy can keep you motivated and confident to stick to your goal of quitting or limiting drinking. You never know; they could be just as happy as you to have a sober partner in crime.

Tips to manage social anxiety without alcohol

There’s a good chance you’re familiar with the idea of having a drink (or several) to help “take the edge off.” For lots of folks who experience anxiety in social settings, drinking can appear to help do just that, especially when the people present or the location is unfamiliar. In reality, the opposite is more accurate. 

Your capacity to make good decisions is reduced when you drink, making it far more likely that you will say or do something you regret. The result can be that your relationship with family or friends is negatively impacted, adding to your anxiety.

Next time you need to loosen up before a social gathering, skip the beer and try some of these tips instead:

Let a friend know what you’re going through. If you have a familiar face at the party who understands your situation, they can act as a support and familiar face in a sea of strangers.

Stay focused on the present. Easier said than done, sure, but an easy place to start is by taking a few deep breaths. Breathing deeply can calm your heart and mind if feelings or sensations of panic begin to set in. 

Take a nap before you head out for the night. Sometimes called a “disco nap,” a 20-30 minute nap can help your brain recharge after a busy or long week. Getting enough sleep can help reduce anxiety, and it’s good for your health overall.
Get some exercise. Even something as simple as parking a bit further away from your destination or getting off the bus or train a few stops early and walking the rest of the way can provide a much-needed mood boost, putting your mind at ease before a party. Bonus points if you can do this with a friend or partner!

An important note about alcohol disorders

The tips above are intended for casual or light drinkers who are trying to cut down. If someone has an alcohol addiction, they need to speak with a healthcare professional to come up with a safe treatment plan. Check out these resources to get the ball rolling.

We’d love to hear from you! What is your favourite non-alcoholic drink? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

In 10 minutes, learn your risk level for the 8 most common health conditions affecting Canadian men. Men’s Health Check is free, anonymous and backed by medical experts.